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The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar (2023) | Transcript

Chronicles a variety of stories, but the main one follows Henry Sugar, who is able to see through objects and predict the future with the help of a book he stole.
The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar (2023)

The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar is a 2023 short film written, co-produced and directed by Wes Anderson, based on the 1977 short story of the same name by Roald Dahl. It is the second film adaptation of a Dahl work directed by Anderson, following Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009). It stars Benedict Cumberbatch as the titular character alongside Ralph Fiennes, Dev Patel, Ben Kingsley, and Richard Ayoade

The film is the first of a four-part series of shorts adapted from Dahl’s short stories, including “The Swan”, “The Ratcatcher” and “Poison”.

* * *

Henry Sugar, an independently wealthy man who enjoys gambling, finds and reads a doctor’s report on a strange patient the doctor met while stationed at a hospital in India. This patient, who called himself “The Man Who Sees Without Using His Eyes”, had the ability to see even after the doctors had medically sealed the man’s eyes shut and bandaged his head. The man was part of a circus act and used his ability to make money. When interviewed in more detail by the curious doctors he gave an account which they wrote up. The man claimed he had been interested in magic all his life, and managed to study with Yogi Hardawar in India, by which he develops the ability to see through thin objects such a paper or playing cards, and can see around solid objects such as a wooden door if he is allowed a finger or hand around it. The doctors decide the man could be of great benefit as a teacher of the blind, and return to the circus, only to find the show canceled, when the Man Who Sees Without Using His Eyes has died.

* * *

[Roald] Hmm. Yes.

Well, here we are now in the hut where I write. I’ve been in this hut for 30 years now. Well, it’s important, uh, before I start, I like to make sure I have everything around me that I’m going to need. Um… Cigarettes, of course. Some coffee, chocolates. And always make sure I have a sharp pencil before I start.

[sharpener whirring]

I have six pencils, and then I like to clean my writing board.

See how many bits of rubber.

There.

And then, finally, one starts.

It’s, uh… usually a few corrections needed.

Yeah.

[mumbling]

It’s, um…

Henry Sugar was 41 years old, unmarried and rich.

He was rich because he had a rich father who was now dead.

Was unmarried because he was too selfish to share any of his money with a wife.

He was 6’2″ tall, and not perhaps as handsome as he thought he was.

He paid a great deal of attention to his clothes.

He went to an expensive tailor for his suits,

to a shirt maker for his shirts, and to a boot maker for his shoes.

His hairdresser trimmed his hair once every ten days, and he always took a manicure at the same time.

He drove a Ferrari motor car

which cost him about the same as a country cottage.

[bell tolling distantly]

All his friends were rich and he had never done a day’s work in his life.

Men like Henry Sugar can be found drifting like seaweed all over the world.

They’re not particularly bad men, but they’re not good men either.

They’re simply part of the decoration.

All rich people of Henry’s type, of course, have one peculiarity in common: a terrific urge to make themselves richer.

The 10 million is never enough. Nor is 20 million.

Always they suffer the insatiable longing for more money and the terror of waking up one morning and finding nothing in the bank.

They employ various methods to increase their fortunes.

Some buy stocks and shares, watch them go up and down.

Some buy land or art or diamonds. Some bet on roulette, blackjack, horses.

Some, indeed, bet on anything.

Henry Sugar was one of those, and not at all above cheating, by the way.

One summer weekend, Henry drove from London to the countryside to stay with Sir William W.

The house was magnificent. So were the grounds.

But when Henry arrived that Saturday, it was already pelting with rain.

The host and his other guests whiled away the afternoon playing games, while Henry glumly stared out at the drops splashing against the windows.

Henry wandered out of the drawing room and into the front hall.

He drifted through the house, aimless. Then finally mooched into the library.

Sir William’s father was a book collector, and the walls of this huge room were lined with antiquated leather bound volumes floor-to-ceiling.

Henry wasn’t interested.

He only read detective novels and thrillers. Nothing like that here.

He was about to leave when his eye was caught and held by something quite different.

So slim, he never would’ve noticed it if it hadn’t been sticking out from the books on either side.

He pulled it from the shelf.

It was nothing more than a cardboard exercise book, the kind children use at school.

The cover was dark blue, with nothing written on it.

On the first page, hand-printed in black ink, clear and neat, it said: Strange. Weird. What is this?

He settled himself into an armchair and started from the beginning.

The following is what Henry read in the little, blue exercise book.

My name is Z.Z. Chatterjee. Head surgeon at Lords and Ladies Hospital, Calcutta.

On the morning of 2nd December, 1935, I was in the doctors’ rest room having a cup of tea.

Three other doctors were present with me. Doctors Marshall, Mitra, and Macfarlane.

There was a knock.

[knocking]

“Come in,” I said.

Excuse me, please. May I ask you gentlemen a favor?

“This is a private room,” I said.

I know. I’m sorry to burst in like this,

but I have a most, I think, interesting thing to show you.

We were pretty annoyed and didn’t say anything.

Gentlemen, I’m a man who can see without using his eyes.

He was a small man, about 60,

white mustache and a matting of black hair over the outsides of his ears.

You may bandage my head with 50 bandages in any way,

and I’ll still be able to read you a book.

He seemed perfectly serious. I felt my curiosity beginning to stir.

Come in, please.

All right. How many fingers is Dr. Marshall holding up?

Seven.

“Once more,” I said.

Nine.

“Once more,” I said.

Three.

Once more…

Three again.

Once more.

No fingers.

Hmm. What’s the trick?

There’s no trick. This is a genuine thing I’ve managed after years of training.

What sorts of training?

Forgive me, sir, but that is a private matter.

What can we do for you?

I work in a traveling theater. We arrived in Calcutta today.

Tonight we give our opening performance at the Royal Palace Hall.

I am billed on the program as:

Imdad Khan, the Man Who Sees without His Eyes.

When our company arrives in a new town,

I go to the largest hospital

and ask the doctors to bandage my eyes in the most thorough fashion.

It is important this job is done by doctors,

otherwise people may think I’m cheating.

Then I go out into the streets and do a dangerous thing.

I looked at the others.

Mitra and Macfarlane had to go back to their patients. Go on.

But Dr. Marshall said…

Why not? Let’s do the job properly.

Make it absolutely certain he can’t see anything.

You are kind. Please do whatever you wish.

“Before we bandage him,” I said, “fill his eye sockets with something soft, solid.”

Dough?

Perfect. Go to the hospital bakery.

I’ll take him and seal his eyelids.

I led Imdad down the long corridor to the surgery.

“Lie down there,” I said.

I took a bottle of collodion from the cupboard.

I’ll glue your eyelids shut with this stuff.

How do I remove it later?

Just dab some alcohol carefully below the lashes. That’ll dissolve it.

Keep your eyes closed while we wait for it to harden.

Two minutes passed.

“Open your eyes,” I said. He couldn’t.

I took some of Dr. Marshall’s dough and plastered it over one of Imdad’s eyes.

I filled the whole socket and let the dough overlap onto the surrounding skin.

I did the same with the other eye.

I pressed the edges down hard.

“Isn’t too uncomfortable?” I asked.

[Imdad] Not at all. Thank you.

“Do the bandaging,” I said to Marshall.

My fingers are too sticky.

Pleasure. We’ll just pop these here…

Dr. Marshall laid thick cotton-wool on Imdad’s dough-filled eyes.

It stuck in place.

Sit up please.

Dr. Marshall rolled a three-inch bandage round the face and head.

Please do leave my nose free for breathing.

[Dr. Marshall] Of course.

Sorry, it’s going to be a pinch on the tight side.

[Imdad groans softly]

How’s that?

“Splendid,” I said.

Looked like he suffered a terrible brain operation.

How does it feel?

[Imdad] It feels very good.

I must compliment you gentlemen on doing such a thorough job.

Imdad Khan stood up off the bed and walked straight to the door.

Great Scott! See that? He put his hand right on the doorknob!

Dr. Marshall stopped grinning.

Imdad was walking normally, quite briskly along the corridor.

We followed five yards behind him. Spooky it was to watch this man with an enormous, totally bandaged head strolling casually…

“He saw it!” I cried.

“He saw that trolley! This is unbelievable!”

Dr. Marshall didn’t answer.

His whole face was rigid with shocked disbelief.

Imdad went down the stairs with no trouble at all.

Didn’t even hold the stair-rail.

Several people were coming up. You can see how they reacted.

At the bottom of the stairs, he turned and headed out the doors to the street.

Dr. Marshall and I kept close behind him.

Below us, a crowd of 100 barefoot children shouted and surged towards our white-headed visitor.

He greeted them with his hands above his head.

He walked to a bicycle, mounted it, and pedaled a figure-eight.

The barefoot children chased him, cheering and laughing.

He sped straight out into the traffic of the busy street with honking motor-cars whizzing around him in every direction.

He rode superbly.

For a minute, we kept him in sight.

Then he turned a corner and was gone.

“I can’t believe it,” Dr. Marshall said.

I can’t believe it.

“I can’t either,” I said.

I think we just witnessed a miracle.

For the rest of the day, I was busy with patients.

In the evening, I went to my flat to change clothes.

I took a long, cool shower.

I drank whisky-soda on the veranda with only a towel around my waist.

At ten minutes to 7:00, I arrived at the Royal Palace Hall.

[Dr. Z.Z.] The show lasted two hours.

To my surprise, I enjoyed it. The juggler, the snake-charmer, the fire-eater, the sword-swallower who pushed a rapier down his throat into his stomach.

Lastly, to a great fanfare of trumpets,

our friend Imdad Khan came out to do his act.

Members of the audience were called onstage to blindfold him before he threw knives around a boy’s body and shot a can off his head with a revolver.

Then, finally, a metal barrel was fitted over his already bandaged head.

The boy placed a needle in Imdad’s hand and some cotton thread in the other.

A large magnifying glass was placed in front of him, and with no false moves, he neatly threaded the thread through the eye of the needle.

[crowd exclaiming]

[lively music playing]

I was flabbergasted.

Backstage, I found Imdad sitting quietly on a stool while he removed his stage makeup.

You’re curious, doctor, correct?

“Most curious,” I said.

Again, I was struck by the matting of black hair on the outsides of his ears.

I’d never seen anything like it on another person.

I have a proposal: I’m not a writer by profession.

But if you tell me how you developed this power of seeing without your eyes, I’ll take it down faithfully.

I’ll try to get it published in the British Medical Journal or in a famous magazine.

Would that help you? To become better known?

It would help me very much.

Splendid.

I have a shorthand for taking down medical histories.

I believe I got everything Imdad said to me, word for word.

I give it to you now exactly as he spoke it.

I was born in Kashmir State in 1873.

My father was a ticket inspector on the national railway.

One day, a conjurer came to our school and gave a performance.

I was spellbound.

Two weeks later, I took all my savings and ran away to join a traveling theater company.

That was in 1886. I was 13 years old.

For three years

I traveled with this group all over the Punjab.

By the end of it, I was playing top of the bill.

All the time, I was saving money, which finally added up to just over 3,000 rupees.

At this moment, I heard tell of a great, famous yogi who had acquired the rare power of levitation.

It was said that when he prayed, his whole body left the ground and rose up 18 inches into the air.

At the very least, a terrific effect.

Mustache?

Oh. I quit the theater company…

[woman] Mmm-hmm.

…and made my way to the small town on the banks of the Ganges, where rumor said this yogi was living.

One day, I overheard a traveler mention a hermit he had encountered not so very far away, in the densest jungle, all alone.

That was enough for me.

Um, I dashed out to hire a horse and cart.

As I negotiated with the driver, a man appeared and said he was going in the same direction, and suggested we share the ride and split the cost.

Well, what truly fantastic luck!

Talking to my companion, I found that he was a disciple of the great yogi himself, and on his way, at that very moment, to visit his master.

I blurted out,

“This is the man I’m looking for! Please, may I meet him?”

My companion looked at me long and slow.

“That is impossible,” he said.

From this point forward, he refused to answer my questions.

However, I managed to learn one small thing: the time of day the great yogi commenced his meditation.

My companion signaled to halt the cart, dismounted, and was gone.

I pretended to drive on. But just around the corner, I jumped down and snuck back along the path.

Already, the man had disappeared into the jungle.

[twig snaps]

I heard a rustling in the undergrowth.

“If that’s not him,” I thought, “it’s a tiger, and I’m about to be pounced upon, thrashed, and eaten in little, torn morsels of bloody flesh.”

It was him.

[insects trilling]

[birds chirping]

There wasn’t even a shadow of a trace of a path where the man was walking.

He was pushing his way between tall bamboos and every kind of heavy vegetation.

I crept after him, very quiet, keeping at least 100 yards behind.

Whenever I lost sight of him, which was most of the time, I was able to follow the sound of his footsteps.

For half an hour, this tense game of follow-the-leader went on.

Then, suddenly, I no longer heard the man in front of me.

I stopped and listened.

All at once, through the thick undergrowth, I saw a little clearing and two small huts.

My heart jumped.

There was a water-hole next to the nearest hut with a prayer-mat beside it, and above, a large baobab tree with beautiful, thick, leafy branches.

All through the great noontime heat, I waited.

On through the heavy wet heat of the afternoon, I waited.

As five o’clock approached, I quietly climbed up my tree and hid among the leaves.

Finally, the great yogi came out of his hut and sat cross-legged on the mat.

Each movement he made was calm and gentle.

He put his hands palm downward on his knees and took a long breath through his nostrils, and already I could see a sort of brightness was melting over him.

For 14 minutes, he remained perfectly still in this position.

And then, as I watched, I saw, quite positively, his body slowly lifting off the ground.

Twelve inches. Fifteen. Eighteen. Twenty.

Two feet above the prayer-mat.

Up in the tree, I said to myself, “There before you is a man sitting in the air.”

Forty-six minutes, by my watch, his body remained suspended.

And then he slowly descended back to earth, until his buttocks rested again upon the mat.

I climbed down from my tree and ran straight over.

The great yogi was washing his hands and feet.

“How long have you been here?” he said sharply.

Suddenly, he picked up a brick and threw it at me so hard it broke in two as it struck my leg below the knee.

I have the scar still. I’ll show it to you.

This was actually a stroke of luck.

A great yogi isn’t meant to lose his temper and fling bricks.

The old man was humiliated, remorseful, and deeply disappointed in himself.

He explained that though he could not take me on as a disciple, he would, nevertheless, give me some informal instruction in order to make amends for attacking me, an attack I fully deserved, by the way.

This was in 1890.

I was nearly 17 years old.

Now, what was the great yogi’s instruction?

Here it comes.

The mind is a scattered thing.

It concerns itself with thousands of different items at once.

Things you see around you. Things you hear and smell.

Things you think about. Things you try not to think about.

You must learn to concentrate such that you can visualize at will one item, one item only, and nothing else.

If you work hard, you may be able to concentrate your conscious mind on any one object you select for around three and one-half minutes.

This will take about 20 years of diligent, daily effort.

“Twenty years!” I cried.

Twenty years. It may take longer.

That’s the usual time, if you are able to do it at all.

I’ll be an old man by then!

The time varies. Some take ten years, some take thirty.

On extremely rare occasions, a special person comes along who’s able to develop the power in only one or two years, but this is one in a billion. Not you.

Is it that difficult to concentrate the mind…

Almost impossible. Try it and see. Shut your eyes and think of something.

Think of just one object. Visualize it. See it before you.

In a few seconds, your mind will wander.

Other thoughts will creep in. It’s a very difficult thing.

Thus spoke the great, wise, old yogi.

[Imdad] And so my exercises began.

Each evening, I sat down, closed my eyes, and visualized the person I loved best in the world, which was my elder brother who died, age ten, from a blood disease.

I concentrated on his face, but the instant my mind began to wander, I stopped the exercise, rested for several minutes, then I tried again.

After five years of daily practice, I was able to concentrate absolutely on my brother’s face for one and a half minutes.

I was making progress.

In the meantime, I began to earn quite good money giving conjuring performances.

By nature, my sleight-of-hand is very good, but always, I continued my exercises.

Every evening, wherever I was, I settled myself down in a quiet spot and concentrated my mind on my brother’s face.

Sometimes, I lit a candle and began by staring at the flame.

A candle flame, as you know, has three separate parts: the yellow at the top, the mauve lower down, and the black inside.

I placed the candle 16 inches away from my face, absolutely level with my eyes, so I didn’t have to make even tiny adjustments of my eye muscles by looking up or down.

I stared at the black part in the center until everything around me disappeared.

Then I shut my eyes and began to concentrate on my brother’s face.

By 1907, when I was 34 years old, I could concentrate for three minutes without any wandering of my mind whatsoever.

It was also at this time that I became aware of a slight ability, just a queer, little feeling, that when I closed my eyes and looked at something hard, with fierce intensity, I could see the outline of the object I was looking at.

I thought of a thing the yogi had said: “Certain holy people have been known to develop so great a concentration they can see without using their eyes.”

Each night after I performed my exercises with the candle flame, I drank a cup of coffee, then I blindfolded myself and sat in my chair trying to see without my eyes.

I started with a deck of playing cards.

I studied the backs. I guessed the values.

Benedict Cumberbatch and Ralph Fiennes in 'The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar.'
Benedict Cumberbatch and Ralph Fiennes in ‘The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar.’

Immediately, I had a 60% success rate.

Later, I bought maps and navigational charts and pinned them up around my room.

I spent hours looking at them blindfolded, trying to read the small lettering.

Every evening for the next eight years, I proceeded with this kind of practice.

By 1915, I could read a book straight through, cover to cover, blindfolded.

I had it!

At last, I had this power.

As you know, it became my entire conjuring performance.

Audiences loved it, but no one believed it to be genuine. Still don’t.

Even doctors, like you, who blindfold me in the most expert fashion, refuse to believe anyone can see without his eyes.

They forget there are other ways of sending an image to the brain.

Imdad Khan fell silent.

He was tired.

“What other ways?” I asked.

Quite honestly, I do not know.

The seeing is done by another part of the body.

[Dr. Z.Z.] Which part?

That night I didn’t go to bed.

This man would have scientists turning somersaults in the air.

He must be the most valuable man alive.

I had to find out exactly how it was, biologically, chemically, magically, an image could be sent to the brain without using the eyes.

Blind people might be able to see. Deaf people to hear. Who knows what else?

“This incredible man must not be ignored,” I thought.

I started transcribing with care everything Imdad had told me that evening.

I wrote for five hours without stopping.

At eight o’clock the next morning, I finished the most important part: the pages you’ve just read.

I didn’t see Dr. Marshall until we met for our tea-break.

I told him what I could in the time we had.

“Back to the theater tonight,” I said. Can’t lose him now.

I’ll come with you.

At 6:45, we drove to the Royal Palace Hall.

I parked the car, and we walked to the theater.

“There’s something wrong,” I said.

There was no crowd, and the doors were closed.

The poster for the show was in place, but someone had printed across it…

“Tonight’s performance canceled.”

I asked an old gatekeeper by the locked doors: “What happened?”

[gatekeeper] Someone died.

“Who?”

Of course, I already knew.

[gatekeeper] The man who sees without his eyes.

“How?” I cried.

[gatekeeper] He went to sleep and never woke up.

These things happen.

We walked slowly back to the car.

I felt an overwhelming sense of grief and anger.

I should never have allowed him out of my sight.

I should’ve given him my bed, taken care of him.

Imdad Khan was a maker of miracles.

He’d communicated with mysterious forces far beyond the reach of ordinary people.

Now he was dead.

“That’s that,” Dr. Marshall said.

That’s that.

“Yes,” I said.

“That’s that.”

This is a true and accurate report of everything concerning my two meetings with Imdad Khan.

Well, well, well.

Now that is extremely interesting.

This is a terrific piece of information.

This could change my life.

[electrical buzzing]

The piece of information Henry was referring to was that Imdad Khan had trained himself to read the value of a playing-card from the reverse side, and, being, as mentioned, a dishonest gambler, Henry realized at once, he could make a fortune.

He went downstairs to the butler’s pantry and asked for a candle, a candlestick, and a ruler.

He took them to his bedroom, locked the door, drew the curtains, and turned off the lights.

Put the candle on the dressing-table. Pulled up a chair.

He noticed with satisfaction that his eyes were level with the wick.

Using the ruler, he positioned his face 16 inches from the candle, as indicated in the book.

Imdad Khan had visualized the face of the person he loved best, which, in his case, was his deceased brother.

Henry didn’t have a brother.

He decided instead to visualize his own face.

[car engine revving]

As Henry stared into the black area at the center of the flame, an extraordinary thing happened.

His mind went absolutely blank, his brain ceased fidgeting, and all at once he felt as if his entire body had become encased, snug and cozy, within that little black area of burning nothingness.

Admittedly, this lasted only 15 seconds.

Then, no matter where, or what he was doing, he made a point of practicing with the candle five times a day.

For the very first time, he threw himself into something with genuine enthusiasm, and the progress he made was remarkable.

After six months he could concentrate absolutely upon the image of his face for three minutes without a single outside thought entering his mind.

“It’s me,” Henry thought.

“I’m the one-in-a-billion with the ability to acquire yoga powers at incredible speed!”

By the end of the first year, he’d exceeded five and a half minutes.

The time had come.

The living room of Henry’s London flat. Midnight.

He shakes with excitement as, for the first time, he places a deck of cards upside down before him and concentrates on the top card.

All he sees initially is the ordinary design of thin red lines on the back,

perhaps the most common playing-card design in the world.

He now shifts his concentration to the other side of the card.

He focuses with great intensity upon the invisible underneath of the card.

Thirty seconds elapse. One, two, three minutes.

Henry doesn’t move a muscle.

His now highly-developed concentration is absolute.

He visualizes the reverse of the card.

No other thought is permitted to enter his mind.

During the fourth minute, something starts to happen.

Slowly, magically, but distinctly, a black blob becomes a spade, a twisty squiggle becomes a five.

The five of spades.

Fingers quivering, he picks up the card and turns it over.

[gasps] “I’ve done it,” he says.

Henry becomes a fanatic.

He never leaves his flat except to buy food and drink.

All day and often far into the night, he crouches over the cards with the stopwatch.

Reducing his time, second by second.

[cork pops]

In a month, he’s at a minute and a half. Six months, 20 seconds.

Seven more months, ten seconds flat.

His target is five.

Unless he can read through a card in five seconds, he won’t work the casinos successfully.

Yet the nearer he gets to his target, the more difficult it becomes to reach it.

Four weeks to get from ten seconds to nine.

Five more to get from nine to eight.

Hard work no longer bothers him.

He’s able to work 12 hours straight, no trouble.

He knows with certainty he’ll get there.

The last two seconds are the hardest, 11 months.

But late one Saturday afternoon…

[watch ticking]

Five seconds. Henry goes through the pack, timing himself with every card.

Five seconds. Five seconds. Five seconds.

How long has it taken him to reach this moment?

Three years and three months of uninterrupted effort.

There were over 100 legitimate casinos in London.

Henry was a member of no less than ten. Lord’s House was his favorite.

It was the finest in the land, in a magnificent Georgian mansion.

Good evening, Mr. Sugar.

…said the man whose job it was to never forget a face.

Henry ascended the marvelous staircase to the cashier’s office.

He wrote a check for £10,000.

Well-fed women circled the roulette wheel like plump hens around a feeding hopper.

Men with crimson faces, cigars between their lips counted their chips, eyes glittering with greed.

Odd. For the first time in Henry’s life,

he looked with distaste upon a room full of horrible rich people.

He searched for a vacant seat directly on the dealer’s camera left at any of the blackjack tables.

The dealer took Henry’s plaque and dropped it into a slot.

He was a young-ish man with black eyes and gray skin.

He never smiled and only spoke when necessary.

He had slim hands. There was arithmetic in his fingers.

He picked up a wedge of £25 chips and placed them in a pile.

He didn’t need to count them. Those nimble fingers were never wrong.

He slid the pile to Henry.

As Henry stacked his chips, he glanced at the top card in the dealer’s shoe.

In five seconds he read it as a ten. He pushed out eight chips, £200,

the maximum stake allowed at Lord’s House.

He was dealt the ten. His second card was a nine.

Nineteen all together.

On 19, you stick.

You sit tight and hope the dealer doesn’t get 20 or 21. It’s a given.

When the dealer came to Henry, he said…

Nineteen.

…and passed to the next player. “Wait,” said Henry.

The dealer came back to Henry.

He raised his eyebrows, looked with cool eyes.

You wish to draw to 19?

…he asked crisply.

There were only two ranks that wouldn’t bust a 19, the ace and the two.

Only an idiot would risk drawing on 19, especially with £200 on the table.

The back of the next card lay visible. The dealer hadn’t touched it.

“Yes,” Henry said. “Another card.” The dealer shrugged and dealt it.

The two of clubs landed in front of Henry alongside the ten and the nine.

21.

…the dealer said evenly.

He glanced up again into Henry’s face, and rested there, silent, watchful, puzzled.

[crowd murmuring]

Henry had unbalanced him. He’d rarely, if ever, seen anyone draw on 19.

This fellow had with a calmness and certainty that was quite staggering, and he’d won.

Henry caught the dealer’s look, realized he’d made a silly mistake.

He’d attracted attention. “I beg your pardon.”

He must never do that again.

He must be very careful, even make himself lose occasionally.

The game went on.

Henry’s advantage was so enormous, he had difficulty keeping his winnings reasonable.

In an hour, he’d won £30,000.

There he stopped.

It could just as easily have been a million.

Thank you.

Henry was now almost certainly capable of making money faster than any other person in the entire world.

Interesting.

Had this been a made-up story instead of a true one, it would have been necessary to invent a surprising and exciting end for the thing.

Something dramatic and unusual.

For example, Henry could go home and start counting his money.

While doing this, he might suddenly begin to feel unwell.

He has a pain in his chest.

He decides to go to bed. He takes off his clothes.

Walks naked and puts on pajamas.

He passes the full-length mirror against the wall. He stops.

Automatically, from force of habit, he starts to concentrate.

All at once, he sees through his own skin.

Like an X-ray, only better. He sees everything.

Arteries, veins, the blood pumping through him.

Liver, kidneys, intestines. He sees his heart beating.

He looks at where the pain is coming from and sees a dark lump inside the large vein leading into the heart on the right side.

A blood clot. At first, the clot appears to be stationary.

Then it moves. The movement’s slight. Only a millimeter or so.

The blood is pumping up behind the clot and pushing past it, and the clot moves again.

It jerks forward about half an inch. Henry watches in terror.

He knows a large clot that’s broken free and is traveling in the vein will reach the heart.

He is about to die.

Not a bad ending for fiction, but this isn’t fiction.

This story is fact.

The only untrue thing is Henry’s name, which wasn’t Henry Sugar.

His name has to be protected. It still must be protected.

Apart from that, this is a true story, and because it’s a true story, it must have the true ending.

Here’s what actually happened.

Henry walked for an hour. The evening was cool and pleasant.

The city still wide awake.

He could feel the thick bankroll in the inside pocket of his jacket.

He patted it gently.

A lot of money for an hour’s work.

Yet, he was a puzzled man.

He couldn’t understand why he felt so little excitement about this success.

If this had happened three years ago, before the yoga, he’d have gone crazy with excitement, he’d be rushing off to a nightclub to celebrate.

But Henry didn’t feel excited.

Dev Patel, Sir Ben Kingsley, and Richard Ayoade in ‘The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar’
Dev Patel, Sir Ben Kingsley, and Richard Ayoade in ‘The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar’

He felt sad.

Every time he made a bet, he’d been certain to win.

There was no thrill, no suspense, no danger.

He knew he could travel around the world making millions.

But was it going to be any fun?

Another thing. Was it not entirely possible the process of acquiring yoga powers had completely and utterly changed his entire outlook on life?

It was possible.

The next morning, Henry woke up late, got out of bed, saw the enormous bundle lying on his dressing-table, and didn’t want it.

[man] Oi?!

Good morning, sir. That’s for you! It’s a present.

[man 1] I…

A what?

Put it in your pocket!

[man] All right.

[woman] What is it?

[man 2] It’s money.

Keep it!

[passing footsteps]

[man 2] Hey!

[hurried footsteps approaching]

[woman 2] Come on…

[bicycle bell ringing]

[bicycle thuds]

[car horn honking]

[people chattering excitedly]

[people yelling indistinctly]

[car brakes screech]

[car doors slam]

[people clamoring violently]

[brakes screech]

[thuds]

[whistle blowing]

[doorbell ringing]

[policeman] The doorbell rang.

What do you think you’re doing?

Sorry about the crowd.

I was giving away some money.

You’re inciting a riot!

Just giving away some money.

I won’t do it again. They’ll soon go away.

The policeman took one hand off his hip, produced a £50 note.

A-ha, you got one yourself.

This is evidence. Where’s the money from?

I won it at blackjack. I had a tremendously lucky night.

Henry named the club and the policeman wrote it down.

They’ll tell you it’s true.

The policeman lowered the book. I don’t care.

Don’t you?

Not whatsoever.

In fact, I believe your story, but that doesn’t excuse what you did even the tiniest bit.

I didn’t do anything illegal, did I?

Illegal?

[shouting] You’re an idiot!

If you’re lucky enough to win yourself a big sum of money like that, and want to give it away, you don’t throw it out of the window.

You give it somewhere it’ll do some good. A hospital for instance, or an orphanage.

There’s hospitals and orphanages all over got hardly enough money to buy the kids a present for Christmas.

Then comes a spoiled idiot who’s never known what it’s like to be hard up, and you throw the stuff out into the street!

The policeman stomped down the stairs and out of the door.

Henry didn’t move.

Those words, and the fury with which they were spoken, struck hard and deep.

He was ashamed.

It was an awful feeling.

Then, all at once, Henry felt a powerful electricity tingling through his entire body, and there began to come to him an idea that was to change everything.

He started pacing up and down, ticking off the points that would make his idea possible.

One. I’m going to win a very large sum of money each and every day of my life from this moment forward.

[different voice] Two. I can go to the same casino only once every six months.

Three. I must never win too much money in one sitting.

[normally] £50,000 pounds a night, that’s my limit.

[in Texan accent] Four. £50,000 a night for 365 days a year.

That’s £18.25 million.

[normally] Five. Keep moving.

No more than three nights at a stretch in any city.

London, Monte-Carlo, Cannes, Biarritz, Deauville, Las Vegas, Mexico City, Buenos Aires, Nassau.

Six. I’ll take the money and establish hospitals and orphanages around the world.

[in woman’s voice] Corny and sentimental as a dream, but as a reality, I think I can make it work.

I don’t think it’d be corny at all. It would be wonderfully stupendous.

[normally] Seven. I need a partner who can sit behind a desk and receive the money, then send it where it’s needed.

Someone I can deeply, emphatically, categorically trust forever.

John Winston was Henry’s accountant, and had been his father’s too, and John’s father had been Henry’s father’s father’s accountant.

You could be the richest man on Earth.

I don’t want to be the richest man on Earth.

I can’t operate in England. The taxman’ll take it all.

I’ll have to move to Switzerland. But not tomorrow.

I’m not unattached like you with no responsibilities.

I must talk to my family, give notice to my partners.

I must sell my house, find another in Switzerland, take the kids out of school. These things take time.

One year later, Henry had sent just over £120 million to John Winston in Lausanne.

The money was delivered five days a week to a Swiss company called Winston Sugar, LLC.

Nobody except John and Henry knew where the money came from or what would happen to it.

The Monday remittance was the biggest because it included the take for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, when the banks were closed.

[Henry] He moved with astonishing speed, changing his identity several times in a single week.

Often, the only clue John had of Henry’s whereabouts was the address of the bank which had sent the money. It was stupendous.

Henry died last year, age 63, from a pulmonary embolism.

He saw it coming, quite literally, but was very much at peace.

He’d been following his plan for just over 20 years.

He’d made £644 million.

He’d left 21 well-established, well-run children’s hospitals and orphanages around the world, administered and financed from Lausanne by John Winston and his staff.

His work was complete.

Now, how do I know all this? Good question. I’ll tell you.

Soon after Henry’s death, John Winston telephoned me from Switzerland.

He introduced himself simply as the head of a company calling itself Winston Sugar, LLC, and asked if I’d come to Lausanne to see him with a view to writing a brief history of the organization.

I don’t know how he chose me.

Probably had a list of writers and stuck a pin in it.

He would pay me well, he said, and added, “A remarkable man has died recently.”

“His name was Henry Sugar.”

“I think people ought to know a bit about what he has done for the world.”

In my ignorance, I asked whether the story was really interesting enough to merit being put on paper.

This annoyed John Winston very much. Perhaps it even offended him.

In five minutes on the phone, he told me about Henry Sugar’s secret career.

It was secret no longer.

Henry was dead and would never enter another casino again.

“I’m coming,” I said.

In Lausanne, I met John Winston, now over 70, also Max Engelman, a renowned make-up artist who traveled the world with Henry creating fantastic disguises to conceal his identity.

They were both shattered by Henry’s death. Max even more so than John Winston.

I loved him. He was a great man.

John Winston showed me the original dark-blue exercise book written by Z.Z. Chatterjee in Calcutta in 1935.

I later copied it out word-for-word.

“One last question,” I said.

“You keep calling him Henry Sugar, yet you tell me that wasn’t his name.”

“Don’t you want me to say who he really was when I do the story?”

No.

…John Winston said.

Max and I promised never to reveal his identity.

Oh, I suppose it’ll probably leak out sooner or later.

He was from a well-known English family, but I’d appreciate it if you didn’t try to find out.

Just please, call him plain Mr. Henry Sugar.

And that is what I have done.

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